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Interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune about the continuing social and economic experiment that is the Whole Foods store that was opened in Englewood, Illinois, a year ago.

The story says that Whole Foods “has made good on promises of providing jobs, supporting local vendors and boosting healthy food options. The store has, for some, improved quality of life and perhaps even paved the way for future large-scale investment in Englewood.

“But Whole Foods acknowledges there’s still much work to be done, particularly in connecting with shoppers on a tight budget who may be unfamiliar with natural and organic products. And the mostly black neighborhood’s well-documented struggles of poverty and crime, exacerbated by lack of economic development, remain steep challenges for business.”

Englewood, the Tribune writes, “remains one of the city’s areas of concentrated poverty, ranking fifth in economic hardship out of Chicago’s 77 community areas, according to an analysis last year by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Englewood had the highest percentage of households living in poverty, 48.3 percent, and the third lowest per capita income, $11,281, according to the study.”

Whole Foods does not break out sales for the store, but will say that it is meeting expectations. However, Michael Bashaw, Whole Foods Midwest region president, says that “we got into this (location) from a mission-based perspective and we’re still looking at it that way.”

There does seem to be a sense that Whole Foods’ presence serves as a signal to other businesses that Englewood may offer opportunities, but “prices — and perception of prices at Whole Foods — remain an obstacle. A couple of blocks east on 63rd Street, several Englewood residents leaving Aldi, a discount grocery chain, said they liked having Whole Foods in the neighborhood, but didn’t shop there often.”
KC's View:
The story suggests that Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods will not affect the retailer’s commitment to low-income neighborhoods, but I have to admit that I’m not sure I’m entirely persuaded about this. I do think that price cuts will make the store in Englewood more feasible, and I hope that the commitment does not waver.